It’s Houston week, and our preview of the Cougars rolls out like this, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down, and we’ll delve into the Coog’s skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the UH secondary, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign. Quick links provided as we go for your convenience.
Dana Holgorsen inherits an offensive machine in year one at Houston. Last season Kendal Briles one season in Third Ward was memorable, with De’Eriq King at quarterback and a seemingly endless line of dynamic skill players, Houston did just about everything well, and that balance helped the Cougars average 43 points a game, seventh most in the FBS.
The big news was the resurgence of the Cougar running game, helped by King and five running backs that averaged at least 4.5 yards a carry. Once defenses absorbed body blow after body blow, a top 20 passing attack ignited explosive plays at an elite level. Houston scored touchdowns on 37% of their possession, twelfth best in college football.
|Team||Rush Yards / Att (Nat'l Rank)||Pass Yards / Gm||Passer Rating||Explosive Plays||Poss w/ TDs||Pts / Gm|
|Houston||5.28 (22)||285.38 (19)||150.97 (17)||92 (5)||36.55 (12)||43.15 (7)|
And yet somehow, this team limped down the stretch, on a collision course with a possible New Year’s Six Game and limping to a 1-4 finish including taking a 70 burger from an Army team in a bowl game. The defense, with a slew of NFL caliber athletes, including a generational top ten pick, couldn’t squash a grape. We can now officially coin a new phrase in our lexicon, “D’Onofrio’d” - to be so Cottonelle soft that you draw defeat from the warm bosom of victory. Let us use it in a sentence: “Remember that time Houston put 49 on Temple but got D’Onofrio’d by 10?”
The good news is Holgorsen is one of the top offensive minds in college football, and he’ll have at least many toys to play with as any of his West Virginia squads, including the best dual-threat quarterback in the country. The other good news is that Holgorsen continues to transform his scheme as he evolves beyond just a play caller and into a complete head coach.
“However smart you think he is, he’s smarter than that” Mike Leach told ESPN last November. He’s added wrinkles to his system and moved just far enough away from his Air Raid roots, that it’s something different, designed for winning rather than putting up video game stats. He’s using tight ends, and adjusting tempo, and heaven forbid, playing to his defense. It’s all an effort to control the game and get to the ultimate goal of winning.
He’s adapted to personnel, most significantly his quarterback. The West Virginia offense under Geno Smith skewed differently than the attack under Skyler Howard, which tweaked from the offense Will Grier ran. Now with King, the offense will mold again to fit the skills of the quarterback and skill talent. Chances are it will adjust to Houston’s revamped defense as well.
I can’t think of a time when Holgorsen coached a quarterback with King’s athleticism, pocket movement, and accuracy. Howard was a gifted runner, but not in King’s league. Clint Trickett and Smith were better in the pocket but evolved into supremely accurate passers in West Virginia’s system from year one to year two.
Holgorsen named Marquel Blackwell and Brandon Jones co-offensive coordinators and, though neither has called plays, each brings a unique skill set. Blackwell was running backs coach at West Virginia and Toledo while Jones coached offensive line at Texas Tech, Cal, East Carolina, and Sam Houston State. He’s got quite the Air Raid lineage, coaching under Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Dykes at Cal, and Lincoln Riley at ECU. He played and coached for Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
Holgorsen will be hands-on with the Houston offense this season, more so than in the past few years at West Virginia, where played more of an interested advisor role. The wheels in Holgorsen’s head are turning, and for AAC defenses who couldn’t keep up with Houston last year, that’s a problem.
In the list of failings that Major Applewhite’s era brought on itself, the fact that D’Eriq King was a receiver through half of 2017 is up near the top. Since coming in to start in the upset of South Florida in 2017, King is responsible for 43 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions with a 163.4 QB rating. Overall he’s completing 64% of his passes, but on third down, he completes 71% of his throws. Add in his rushing and King’s responsible for 64 touchdowns in a season and a half.
He’s the elite quarterback you won’t hear about. He led the AAC in almost every offensive category and the league named him to the Second Team All-Conference unit. He gets overshadowed by local publications, and I’m sure most NFL scouts project him as a wide receiver.
None of that matters of course on the field where King has a chance to carry his team to a league title. The key will be whether he can stay healthy, which for Houston is the most significant variable in their season.
Last year his percentile averages placed him among the top 7 quarterbacks in college football, just behind Trevor Lawrence and ahead of Will Grier, Drew Lock, Gardner Minshew, Sam Ehlinger and almost everyone else.
Don’t hand him the Heisman yet, remember this is King’s third offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Briles offense is unique from others, its reads are heavy pre-snap and generally dictate where the ball is going. The super charged pace is designed to exhaust the defense while bringing simplicity to the offense. As we’ve said, Holgorsen’s offense is more nuanced and varied. It’s another change for King but he’s adapted twice before.
After King comes Clayton Tune, thrust into action last year and almost inexplicably burning his redshirt even though Houston had a grad transfer on the roster at least as capable. Tune was overmatched for the most part but did show good interception avoidance. On the season he completed just 50% of his 117 throws, that will have to improve, and I think it can.
Accuracy tends to translate reasonably well as you move up in competition and Tune completed 67% of his throws as a high school senior, and 65% in three seasons. As the game slows down for Tune, his accuracy should improve.
Sophomore Ike Ogbogu is back after making his debut as a redshirt freshman last year against Texas Southern. Logan Holgorsen, son of Dana, enrolled this spring. He came to Houston after interest from North Texas and Bowling Green. He’s technically a walk-on but a three-star composite from 24/7. It’s hard to gauge when or if he’ll have an impact on the program.
The name that interests me is Bryson Smith, is listed as a receiver and played there last season, but in the vein of Greg Ward Jr. and King, he might be the next in line to make the jump to quarterback. Smith completed 61% of his passes as a senior at Tyler John Tyler for 3,277 yards with 32 touchdowns to just nine interceptions; he added another 1,653 on the ground with 23 scores.
*We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.
The Cougars have a solid group of skill talent for their new coach to get the ball to. Let’s start in the backfield where last season’s running game had a noticeable uptick averaging the most yards per rush since 1992. The core of that group returns and adds some quality as well.
Potent rushing is like death and taxes for a Bear Raid scheme; it’s a constant. Now that young Briles is off to Florida State; the Holgorsen offense will look to keep up the pace. In an average year, the Mountaineers finished almost a full yard off a typical Bear Raid pace, so expect the rushing game to go from elite to average.
Former Woodlands High School star and Colorado transfer Patrick Carr had a breakout season with 868 with 5.7 yards a carry and five scores. Carr is incredibly efficient with his movement. In a running back by committee situation, Carr was the bell cow.
It’s easy to overlook senior Mulbah Car, but all he’s done is crank out solid seasons with 4.8 yards per carry or better the past two years. Car’s a reliable and established producer who makes his bones between the tackles. But he impressed Holgorsen this offseason with his athleticism.
Junior Chandler Smith played significant minutes against East Carolina, SMU, and some mop-up time against FCS opponent Texas Southern. Redshirt freshman Kelan Walker played in two games, torching TSU for 105 yards on just nine carries and seeing action against Tulane to lesser results.
Houston adds Kyle Porter, the Texas transfer who played his high school ball at Katy. Porter was a four-star recruit as a prep player, but at Texas, he never quite found his footing. Porter played significant minutes as a sophomore in early 2017 but saw his playing time suffocated by the emergence of Keontay Ingram and Cal transfer Tre Watson. There’s no doubt he’s a talented back, but unlike a player like Car, he’s never put together a consistent season of work. He’ll have two years of eligibility left.
Holgorsen signed Terrell “Smoke” Brown out of Harvey, Louisiana, a three-star composite prospect who held Florida and Arkansas offers. He plays quicker than his 4.9 verified 40-time.
One of the complaints about the Bear Raid is that it does little to prepare receivers to run much other than stops and nine routes. Half the field literally doesn’t run routes depending on pre-snap reads. Teaching receivers to run proper routes seems easy, but perfecting timing and spatial relationships isn’t easy. Cougar great and receiver coach Tyron Carrier will try to install and teach a varied route scheme to a group that had success in a simplified system.
My favorite Holgorsen line on his receiving corps came from a Joseph Duarte piece in the Houston Chronicle in April “[t]hey didn’t have to block in the past and didn’t have to play hard and do a whole lot of things other than run fast and score touchdowns.” I wish Dana Holgorsen were my dad.
At receiver the headliner is homerun threat Marquez Stevenson who caught 75 passes for a 13.6-yard average and nine scores, he added 126 yards on fourteen carries with two touchdowns. Stevenson is one of the most versatile receivers in college football and does a lot of damage once the football is in his hands.
Two players finally emerged in 2018, starting with Keith Corbin who notched 4o catches and a gaudy 17.6-yard average. Courtney Lark, a former four-star recruit, caught 35 passes, 22 more than his previous best. They both thrived running nines in the Briles offense.
Bryson Smith and Jeremy Singleton both flashed as redshirt freshmen. Smith caught 30 passes and added elements in the running game as well. He’s raw at the position, but he seems too good to keep off the field. Singleton caught nineteen passes with two scores including a five catch 125-yard afternoon against South Florida. Terry Mark is a Swiss Army knife who helps on special teams. He had the best receiving season of his career in 2018.
Julon Williams, like Smith, started to make the transition from quarterback to receiver last season. He, Henry Thomas, and Ja’kori Morgan will provide depth but probably won’t play critical downs unless the depth chart implodes.
The Cougars kept their pipeline to Tyler John Tyler active, signing three-star receiver Ke’Andre Street during the 2019 recruiting cycle. He’s a long-striding 6-3, 200-pound target who plays a physical wideout. He uses his hands to control 50/50 balls rather than letting them get to his body and looks like a willing blocker.
At tight end, Houston will miss Romello Brooker, a low-key safety valve and goal-line threat last season. Holgorsen will use tight ends, Trevon Wesco developed into a fourth-round pick for the Mountaineers. The deployment of Wesco and fellow tight end Jovani Haskins was some time in the making, but last season, in particular against Texas, the versatility of the position paid dividends.
Expect the Cougar tight ends to line up in several locations, from a fullback in a diamond backfield to an H-back, to a slot, and in a traditional role. Wesco’s development helped ease Holgorsen into upping his usage, the head coach will default to getting his best skill unit on the field together, we’ll see how comfortable he is with this current crop of Cougar tight ends in the coming months.
Sophomores Parker Eichenberger and Christian Trahan are the names to watch here. They’ve yet to see any significant production, but both saw action last year. Eichenberger caught one pass while Trahan caught two. Bo Alexander is a converted offensive lineman; he’s a uni-tasker, he’s going to block. Follow him to find the ball. Spencer Wells redshirted last year out of Pearland Dawson.
The engine of any football team is upfront in the trenches. For Houston, with all their skill talent and their excellent quarterback, the Coogs will rise or fall based in large part on their front. They’re one of 130 teams in the FBS who’s season relies on the big, beautiful, beasts of burden up front. Here in the second week of July, the offensive line is a work in progress, but pieces are on campus to be pretty good.
Let’s start at the tackles where 6-7 Josh Jones is back for a third year at left tackle, with 36 starts to his name. He’s got wingspan, and I thought he moved better last season, especially against twists and games from the defensive line. On the other edge is another 6-7 senior in Cedar Hill product Jarrid Williams. Williams made all thirteen starts last season, giving him fifteen for his career. Williams is light on his feet, but I’d love for him to drink a six-pack of nasty before each game.
The Cougars will move Braylon Jones down to center after 30 starts at guard. Braylon replaces multi-year starter Will Noble and might be an upgrade at the position, even if his move makes the guard slot weaker. He’s the best athlete on the front. From here on out things get murky.
Houston is starting over at guard, sort of. Keenan Murphy made a start last season and played in thirteen games. He looked like a young player making his first start, his feet stopped, and his head dropped, but he can move. I think movement, especially quick feet, and smooth hips, are as critical as any skill a lineman can have in today’s game.
Defenses are moving more force players into the box, linebackers to defensive end, safeties to linebacker, to counter RPOs and allow flexibility. If you can’t move, you can’t block those hybrids. If you can pair that athletic baseline with size and teach them technique, you’ve got something, maybe a five-star guy. A very few schools sign the handful of players that fit that description, for schools like Houston and 90% of college football, they’ve got to build them.
Dennis Bardwell saw playing time last season as well. Bardwell can probably swing to tackle, but he’s a better fit inside. UCLA transfer Justin Murphy should come in and start at one guard position. I like what I saw from him in terms of movement, and he made line calls from his guard position, so he’s intelligent. He looked like he was in better shape than during his days at Tech (2016), maybe Chip Kelly’s maniacal diet regime paid off. Strength against bigger, explosive defensive tackles can be an issue.
I think you can find five guys out of that group to start, specifically the two Murphys at guard. The issue will be depth, where most of your second unit is going to have minimal on-field experience. The good news is you’ve got some flexibility with players able to play different positions, but Houston is an injury or two away from a bind.
Dixie Wooten could see his first live-action at guard along with Max Banes. Aside from Justin Murphy the Coogs were active in free agency, picking up grad transfer guard Gio Pancotti who played sparingly at Texas Tech. Redshirt freshman Jack Freeman will compete for a depth chart spot at center or guard.
Kameron Lewis will provide depth at tackle after a redshirt season and one game against Texas Southern; so will junior Kordell Snyder.
The Cougars signed three highly regarded high school tackles in Cam’Ron Johnson from new Texas powerhouse Shadow Creek, Patrick Paul out of Jersey Village, and Rodquice Cherry from Alief Elsik. Johnson is light on his feet, while Paul is a mammoth humanoid at 6-8, 315. I don’t see Cherry listed on the current Cougar roster.
Houston also brings in Chayse Todd, an interior player from Crosby - a three-star prospect with offers from Iowa State, Kansas, SMU, and a couple of Service Academies among others. He looks the readiest to have his number called. I love his mean streak.
A lineman has to be very gifted, or a team has to be very desperate to rely on a player four months removed from trying to score a prom date. Good programs view the offensive front as an assembly line. Young players spend a couple of seasons in a strength program and under the tutelage of a raspy-voiced line coach who loses his mind over whether your first step is three or five inches. After that crucial development, then a player starts to compete for playing time.
After an early-season that showed promise, the Cougars became the rustiest of screen doors on defense. Houston fans saw first hand why Miami supporters learned to dislike Mark D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio couldn’t capitalize on the talents of Ed Oliver, Austin Robinson, Isaiah Johnson, and the rest of a senior-laden defense and Houston became dependent on the shootout.
|Team||Opp Pass Yards / Gm (Nat'l Rank)||Opp Pass Att / Sack||Opp % of Poss w/ Pts||Opp Pts / Gm||3rd Down %|
|Houston||268.46 (121)||21.35 (114)||37.24 (97)||37.15 (119)||46.53 (121)|
Houston allowed 70 points to Army in the bowl game, 63 to Texas Tech, and 50 points twice. 37% of all opponent possessions ended with points and 27% ended in touchdowns. In November, with a divisional title at stake, the defense left town completely as Houston allowed 43 points a game with opponents scoring on 43% of all possession and 37% ending with a touchdown.
The travesty is that Houston couldn’t get pressure on opposing passers. The injury to Isaiah Chambers hurt, but the lack of creativity to apply pressure was hard to watch.
I think back to Tom Herman’s departure from Houston. For a brief time, Todd Orlando was the interim coach before Major Applewhite took over just before the Las Vegas Bowl. Orlando, to my mind, seemed like the more obvious choice to succeed Herman.
Dozens of offensive coaches could do what Applewhite did with the Cougar offense, but you couldn’t find more than a handful that could do what Orlando did on the defensive side. Orlando is considered a top ten or, in some instances, a top-five defensive coordinator.
Whether Orlando wanted the job, Houston went with Applewhite who made the uninspired D’Onofrio hire, and the rest is mediocrity. Orlando was a candidate for SMU’s opening last season, and I think he’ll be a good head coach when he gets his shot.
Holgorsen hired Joe Cauthen from Arkansas State to run the defense. The move will mean Houston switches to a 4-2-5 from the 3-4. Cauthen coached the Red Wolves for five seasons. After two years finishing in the 80s in total defense, his units made a significant leap, finishing in the top 50 three times with a best of 29th. Last season his defense pressured quarterbacks into a sack every ten attempts, seventh in the FBS and were 40th in opposing QB completion percentage.
Teams started moving to the 4-2-5 in the early 2000s to combat the spread and one back sets. It’s not entirely a base nickel because the defense employs a couple of hybrid players - the strong safety is a hybrid safety/linebacker, and one of the defensive ends plays a hybrid between a linebacker and defensive end. The idea is to get athletes on the field, but maintain flexibility to stop the run
Ed Oliver is gone. Long live Ed Oliver.
No one can replace Oliver, but maybe the collective can be good enough to be effective. That’s a very Billy Beane replacing Jason Giambi Moneyball concept, but it could work. Or then again this season could be a disaster. Houston replaces critical contributors at every level of the defense, including their linebacking corps, starting corners, and a multi-year starter at safety. Cauthen will start over with a new scheme and new personnel. No big deal.
Chambers was off to a promising start before a knee injury wiped out the TCU transfer’s season after five games. If he’s back to 100%, this is a massive piece to the 4-2-5 front. Payton Turner started eleven games last season before a foot injury. Turner and Chambers give Houston two viable defensive ends and Turner might be able to move down to defensive tackle.
JUCO transfer Taures Payne is a long, smooth athlete who played his high school football at Alabama blue blood Hoover. He played for Northwest Mississippi in the JUCO ranks against decent competition. He could see some reps in the rotation, down the line.
The Coogs return Aymiel Fleming inside, he was the primary backup for Oliver. He started six games last season and will play the critical defensive tackle position this year rather than the nose. At defensive tackle, he’ll line up over the guard, typically on his outside shoulder and try to create pressure into the gaps.
If there’s one position that you need in a 4-2-5, it’s a space-eating nose tackle. Houston found that through the JUCO ranks with the 345 pounds Olivier Charles-Pierre from way up in Montreal. He’s ideal because he can take up space and occupy blockers, freeing up defenders to run to the ball.
Depth is an issue at nose tackle as Houston lacks other big bodies with experience who can play the position. Defensive tackle is a different story, with Blake Young and JUCO transfer Atlias Bell able to play in the rotation. Bell is explosive and quick of the ball. Jamykal Neal signed with Houston out of Hutchinson CC and has the frame to play to the position at 6-2, 315, but the current roster ’doesn’t list him.
Leroy Godfrey and David Anenih move from 3-4 outside linebackers to the 4-2-5 bandit or force player. The position isn’t dramatically different than what they were asked to last season. Godfrey was fifth on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss in thirteen starts. Anenih was a bit of a revelation last year as a sophomore with 6.5 tackles for loss including four sacks. He’s a ball hawk and gives this position some real competition and depth. Derek Parish is a tweener who could play either the bandit or defensive end.
Houston lost their top two tacklers in linebackers Austin Robinson and Roman Brown. The 4-2-5 features a MIKE, and WILL backer and competition will be wide open. Elijah Gooden has made the transition from high school running back to linebacker and will get a look at one of the inside positions. Whether he can deal with the traffic inside the tackle box is the issue, but he can run, so that’s a plus. Jordan Carmouche went from running back at SMU to a defensive end at Navarro to a linebacker at Houston. He’s the biggest of the bunch at 255 pounds. He’s another plus athlete for his size.
Sophomore Donovan Mutin showed some promise as a true freshman out of Klein Collins. Senior Jordan Milburn has made an impact as a special teams contributor and could factor in at linebacker as well. Redshirt Dekalen Goodson was highly regarded out of Tyler John Tyler with offers from Mississippi State and SMU.
The Coogs brought in Terrence Edgeston from the JUCO ranks; he’s a candidate at the WILL position who runs well sideline to sideline. He’s effective in space if he can find it.
I’m not at all sure how this unit will perform this season with so many new faces playing significant minutes. The good news is we’ve seen Houston win eight games with a bad defense so that the offense can make up for a multitude of sins. If this unit can improve somehow, this Cougar team will be a favorite for the AAC West.
Job one for the Houston secondary is to figure out who’s available to play in 2019. Job two is to stay healthy. The first part is easier than the second after 2018 saw multi-year starter Garrett Davis miss all but three games and only Deontay Anderson played in all 13 games. Houston must replace four significant contributors at corner, including fourth-round draft pick Isaiah Johnson.
Speaking of transfers, the Cougars went hard and heavy into the portal, adding six FBS transfers and two more JUCOs. Who’s available for 2019 is still somewhat up in the air. We’ll talk about all those possibilities in a bit. Let’s look at who’s here and where they’ll be playing.
The 4-2-5 uses three “safeties” – a field safety, a boundary safety, and a nickel or star safety that’s a hybrid safety/linebacker. The field safety generally plays on the wide side or field; a boundary safety plays on the short side.
Gleson Sprewell came into his own in 2018 after Davis’ injury, contributing 81 tackles, two tackles for loss, six pass breakups, and three interceptions. He made the most of his opportunity and is the most productive Cougar returning on the defensive side. He’s joined by Ole Miss transfer Anderson who added 72 stops. The former four-star, and number one safety in America, according to ESPN, has a high ceiling and could become an All-Conference performer.
Sprewell is a fit at the boundary safety, while Anderson could play either spot but helps the most on the field side. Sprewell isn’t afraid of sticking his facemask into the fray, and Anderson can cover ground and play center field. After Sprewell and Anderson, the situation gets murky.
At the nickel or star safety, the first shot goes to junior Grant Stuard. Stuard plays with great effort and aggression, but he’s limited in coverage. Amaud Willis-Dalton could play the star or boundary safety. He’s over six-feet and 215 pounds, and he’s comfortable in run fits after playing linebacker at Cy Ranch. He played in five games last season as a redshirt freshman with one tackle.
Darius Gilbert is another long athlete who’s seen a fair amount of action coming into his senior season, primarily on special teams. Depending on how the transfer plays out, Sprewell could play the star as well.
On to those transfers, Jordan Moore signed with A&M out of Yoakum in 2018, redshirted, then transferred to Houston and received a waiver to play in 2019. Moore, in high school, was a superior athlete who would step up and hit you. He covered a lot of acreage and might be too good to keep off the field.
Houston brought in Gervarrius Owens out of Northeastern Oklahoma JC. He’s a long strider; I’m not sold on where or if he fits in a crowded safety position.
Houston needs to find help at cornerback, hopefully, en mass. The position took a hit with the offseason injury to Javian Smith. Most projected Smith to start. Senior Ka’Darian Smith suffered an injury in spring ball as well, but he’s expected to make it back to the field for fall camp. Hopefully, he’s healthy and fills in a starting spot.
D.J. Small, grad transfer Collin Samuel, and JUCO transfer Damarion Williams will fight it out to start and play the nickel and dime corners. Samuel comes to Houston from UCLA, and at 6-2, he’s got the ideal height. He made three starts and played in 20 games for the Bruins. Small, a junior from Dickinson has seen limited action in two seasons on campus. Williams was a Swiss Army knife for Highland Community College, playing corner, inside the box as a safety or force player, and on slots. He’s a physical tackler as well.
Shaun Lewis, a sophomore out of Westfield, played in all 13 games as a redshirt last season. Jonathan Phoenix redshirted in 2018 after signing out of McGregor High School.
Houston signed Deondre Dansby from South Oak Cliff. His height ranges from 5-8 to 5-11 depending on which roster you read and which 7-11 he’s leaving. Dansby held offers from Arizona State, Colorado, Boston College, Tulsa, and others. He started his career at Denton Guyer, played a season at Abilene Cooper before finishing in south Dallas. He’s a tweener, who played linebacker, safety, and a little corner for SOC. If his athletic skill set is up to par, you need versatile athletes like Dansby, but I don’t think he’s a pure corner.
Four of the Coogs FBS defensive back transfers will sit out 2018 due to NCAA rules unless something drastic happens. Kelvin Clemons from Minnesota, Marcus Jones from Troy, Hasaan Hypolite from Colorado and Thabo Mwaniki from Okie State will all wait a season to contribute.
Dane Roy is a weapon at punter. The Aussie averaged 42 yards per punt, eighth-best in the AAC but pinned 22 of his 60 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also hit five punts of 50 yards or more.
Kicker Dalton Witherspoon took the helm in week two and made seven of his nine attempts with a long of 44. He made all 72 extra points in 2018. The Coogs will break in a new kickoff man with the graduation of Haden Novikoff. Roy and Witherspoon both handled spot duty, five kickoffs between them, neither mustered a touchback.
Houston finished 28th in average starting field position, while their opponents ranked 88th in average starting spot. Houston was second in the AAC in punt return defense, giving up just over eight yards a return. They blocked a punt against FCS opponent Texas Southern. The Cougars finished eighth in kickoff return defense giving up just over 20 yards per kickoff runback.
In returns, Bryson Smith and Marquez Stevenson give Houston a potent one-two punch. Both averaged better than 20 yards a kickoff return. With the de-emphasis of kickoff returns, that’s more than adequate - Smith averaged seven yards per punt return.
Houston’s non-conference isn’t exactly fun. The Coogs travel to Norman to take on Big 12 favorite OU. The Sooners are breaking in a new quarterback; if you believe Lincoln Riley, it may not be former Alabama star Jalen Hurts. Regardless, the Sooners are loaded once again. After a run-in with FCS opponent Prairie View, an early-season showdown with Mike Leach and Washington State looms at NRG.
I wonder if Houston might play vanilla, especially on defense, against OU on the road and Prairie View at home in advance of their matchup against the Cougs. Whatever the calendar says, the season starts in week three. I’m circling the matchup with Wazzou, and showdowns with Cincy and Memphis at TDECU. Houston has the talent to win any of those games. Those are the measuring stick contests, especially the two league contests, and they all take place in H-Town.
Another scenario to watch for is whether Houston continues its trend of losing a game they have no business losing. The 2015 loss to UConn in Storrs, the 2016 upset of an undefeated and 6th ranked Houston by Navy, the 28-point loss to a one-win Tulsa in 2017, and losing their last two games at SMU all come to mind, begrudgingly for Cougar fans.
|9/1/19||Sun||at Oklahoma||Big 12||L||An opener against a national title contender is a tough ask.|
|9/7/19||Sat||Prairie View A&M||Non-Major||W||Coogs could put up 80 on their neighbors from 290 North.|
|9/13/19||Fri||Washington State||Pac-12||L||Give your DVR a two hour buffer.|
|9/19/19||Thu||at Tulane||American||W||Green Wave in Nawlins can be a handful.|
|9/28/19||Sat||at North Texas||CUSA||W||An in-state shoot out and potential bear trap.|
|10/12/19||Sat||Cincinnati||American||L||Cincy is on the rise and a favorite in the AAC East.|
|10/19/19||Sat||at UConn||American||W||Just take care of business.|
|10/24/19||Thu||SMU||American||W||On a short week, but Houston has owned this series in the 713.|
|11/2/19||Sat||at UCF||American||L||A rough trip to Orlando before a showdown in Houston.|
|11/16/19||Sat||Memphis||American||L||The battle for the AAC West.|
|11/23/19||Sat||at Tulsa||American||W||Just don't think about the last trip to Tulsa.|
|11/30/19||Sat||Navy||American||W||Navy just can't keep up.|
If Holgorsen can get to eight wins, that’s an excellent accomplishment as he starts to put his stamp on his program. Houston pushed their chips into the middle when they hired Holgorsen away from a Big 12 program in December. They’re spending with the big boys, building with the big boys, and after a two-year respite under Applewhite, they want to win with the big boys.
If you’re a Houston fan, those goals should give you comfort. If you’re a fellow G5 fan, you should aspire for an administration that understands the interplay of the athletic program and the university like Houston’s does. You should hope the powers that be at your favorite institution hustle like the Coogs. The future at Houston is bright, and it’s going to be fun.
Checking Our Work
So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.
|Houston||Predicted Wins||Actual Wins|